Interview with Roberto Zorzi (September 2017)
The first question is always the classic one: how was your love and interest in the guitar born and with what instruments do you play and have you played?
At the beginning, (we are talking about the years between 72 and 75) I’ve wandered through various instruments (drums, electric bass, trombone, which I still love passionately), then I focus my attention on the guitar, that’s because at those times I was almost listening to rock music (Eric Clapton and his Cream had upset me, and I still consider him a real innovator, a great improviser, as well as, of course, Bob Fripp and the unforgettable Syd Barrett). Then one daya friend came to my house and took me a strange LP of this unknown label, the ECM, entitled “The music improvisation company”, a gray spartan cover, completely “fallible” music, so to speak, but fascinating. The guitar player was Derek Bailey, I listened to it and everything changed. The love for the six strings was finally born.
Your carrer is very long, yet in Italy you are little known, you are considered a ” cult guitarist” with all the merits and defects of this definition, how did you get there?
I can not tell you how much I can be considered a “cult”: maybe today, after 30 years, someone recognizes me a certain personal stylistic figure and without compromise, it is possible. I have always tried, I do not know if I have succeeded, to stand out from the standards commonly defined by a guitarist, I have worked hard on electronics by applying a concept of “robotic” work of machines, but always controlled by me: up, play a note , an arrangement and turn them into a multi-layer sound mat.
Apparently it’s kind of a “save job”, actually very mentally and creatively challenging. It’s been a long journey into the sound that I’ve made since 1983, thanks also to the friendship and suggestions of Henry Kaiser, whose LP “Aloha” and “It’s a wonderful life” are my bible.
Let’s talk about NAD, you’ve been one of the most irreverent and original formations coming out of Italian jazz at the end of the eighties, although listening to the definition of jazz musicians seems to me too objectively too narrow. You have earned an exceptional estimate and reputation by sparingly publishing a series of exceptional records, subject to a once again cult, how have you succeeded in a country like Italy?
NAD was born as a “live band” who had fun demystifying so many commonplace jazz tips, but always trying to convey love for African – American music, mixing it with intelligent pop and irony (our lives were often visual theatrical happenings) and with the presence of “strange covers” (Ayler, Ornette, Daniela Goggi …) featured us all. We won the “Independent 87” contest of the magazine “Fare musica”, where we participated “by joke” and from there we decided to engage the first, historic LP, “Ghosts”, which had a certain resonance not only in Italy and Enrico Merlin has inserted in his volume “1000 dischi per un secolo”.
The fact that there were those high-risky guests coming from the then nascent downton scene in NYC was due to the fact that as an artistic director of the Verona Jazz festival I had contact with many of them and then they were willing to help us . My role, as it is today, was the one of the “disturber”, while Enrico Terragnoli was the “jazzist”, but above all the one who invented sound combinations based on the guests I decided to invite, basically constructing sound arrangements and the things we expected from the guests. And it worked, apparently.
I’m going to say “Dangereuxorcisms”: Nicola C. Salerno is the main composer, but arranges with me on the basis of the visiting guest that I submit to him.
We say that the most dazzling things close to the American rural tradition such as the arrangement of ornithane “Feet music” with banjo and bass tube and accordion or, in the new CD, “Countrynad” come to me.
I think we were the first in Italy to be able to create a bridge with the avant-garde USA, which still lasts today. The satisfaction of listening Larry Ochs of the Rova Saxophone quartet saying that his song “The shopper” “it’s your baby, now” is a great thing, knowing it …
What is the role of improvisation in your music search? Do you think that we can still talk about improvisation in a repertoire so codified as the classic music or we have to leave it and turn to other repertoires like jazz, contemporary, etc?
It’s everything for me and, anyway you watch it, everything starts from it (Derek Bailey explains it splendidly in his great book). The problem arises when you can not develop it and put it into “different” contexts or you hunt it in, even when it has nothing to do with everything around it, thinking that you just have to make some noise to be considered ” improvisers “.
Improvising, in my opinion, means:
1) To know the history of music very well and to listen and above all read about it (I love all the writings of Glen Gould, to say), do not focus on a single genre (something that in Italy is, unfortunately, the rule ), have the humility to put themselves at the service of others without wanting to prevaricate and show their own technique. Being omnivores is crucial (do we want to talk about the influence of cinema in the music even improvised?).
2) To be opened without prejudice, in a word “risk”, have the courage to get in the game. This does not seem to happen in the classical academic world to me, but I could be wrong, of course. Bailey’s Company marked in the 1980s a fundamental step in this regard (some things were not the top, of course, but the involvement of “idiomatic” musicians was also total).
To return to the question: turning to other languages is not an obligation. Play what you hear inside you and this is Hank Williams, Takemitsu, or the wind’s sound does not matter. It is enough for you to feel like yours, personal, unique, but, again, you have to know the story (Those who know history are doomed to repeat it, cit. Kaiser).
How does your music methodology can be influenced by the community of people (musicians and not) with whom you collaborate? How do you modify your approach to what you directly or indirectly receive from them? I ask this to you because I see you played many collaborations with internationally renowned musicians …
I try to adapt myself to the context, whether it’s improvisation or whether it is, for the most part, written music. But it has always been a two-way exchange and in any case I think I have always kept my features, beautiful or ugly.
Lately, I feel psychologically influenced by certain literature that we might call “nihilistic” (but only to give an idea). Authors such as Jim Thompson, Cormac McCarty and above all Thomas Bernhard hit my heart and surely something goes into my sounds and improvisations.
What is the role of error in your music vision?
It’s important, very important: it develops your time-reaction, your creativity. Being able to handle the error or the unexpected is a basic thing. And when you have to do with dozens of pedals and pedals you know the trap is there, in front of you: you just have to try not to fall in: if it happens, just laughs and starts again.
What do you think is the role of a crisis moment, can this moment be a time of professional, social or musical crisis?
The crisis we are experiencing, social, human, and moral in the West will bring such unforeseeable upheavals that it is difficult to think of a saving function of art. Also because they seem to me almost all crowned on the unique and globalist, eye-catching, and coercive thought well-described and anticipated at those time by Orwell and Huxley.
Can you recommend us five discs for you indispensable, to have always with you .. the classic five discs for the deserted island ….
1) Larks’ tongues in aspic (KC)
2) Pink Moon (Nick Drake)
3) Vienna Concert (Keith Jarrett)
4) Goldberg Variations (Glenn Gould, 1980)
5) Kind of blue
6) It’s a wonderful life (HK, I could not resist..)
I add the sacred books “Improvisation, Its Nature and Practice in Music” (by Bailey of course) and “The Glenn Gould Reader” (by Glenn Gould).
What are your next projects? What are you working on?
I have to finish to mix the trio album with Scott Amendola at Michael Manring, while at the end of the year will be released the live concert of Bologna on 26/1/17 with Boris Savoldelli (voice, loops) and Massimo Barbiero (batt. ): it’s ready, but for a technical problem we had to postpone the exit.
Look .. a few years ago I read a nice book by Bill Milkowski entitled “Rockers, Jazzbos and Visionaries”. Carlos Santana at one point replied that: “Some people have talent, some people have vision. And vision is more important than talent, obviously.” … after all these years playing, trying to stretch new borders and to widen the precedents … what is your vision?
Try to remain visionary, despite my age.